The international membership of Commonwealth Journalists Association is outraged over the harsh 20-year prison sentence imposed on a prominent Tamil journalist after he was found guilty of “causing communal disharmony.”
JS Tissainayagam was arrested in 2008 and charged with inciting violence in articles in his magazine, the North Eastern Monthly, which is now closed.
Hassan Shariar, president of the CJA international, said he was shocked by the severity of the sentence. “We should all mourn this uncalled-for deprivation of a young man’s freedom over daring to exercise his right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
“The CJA urges the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government to reconsider this horrible sentence when the appeals process begins. The world will be watching and praying for this journalist who is reportedly in poor health.”
The CJA has joined a growing list of worldwide media organizations to condemn the judgment. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) described the sentencing, which includes hard labour, as “disproportionate, brutal, and inhumane.”
Reporters Without Borders on August 31 also expressed dismay over the sentence. “The imposition of this extremely severe sentence on Tissainayagam suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge,” Reporters Without Borders said. “With the help of confessions extracted by force and information that was false or distorted, the court has used an anti-terrorism law that was intended for terrorists, not for journalists and human rights activists.”
Reporters Without Borders and the Global Media Forum also announced on August 31 that Tissainayagam will be the first winner of the Peter Mackler Prize, a newly-created award for journalists who display great courage and professional integrity in countries where press freedom is not respected. The award, to be given out in Washington on Oct. 2, honours the memory of veteran Agence France-Presse reporter and editor Peter Mackler who passed away last year.
The International Press Institute and the Freedom House also condemned the sentence. “Attacks on fundamental freedoms have reached a new and deeply disturbing level in Sri Lanka this year,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House’s executive director. “Anyone who dares to openly disagree with the government’s policies is likely to find himself behind bars or on the receiving end of a death threat. This shameful disdain for free expression is incompatible with the hallmarks of a democratic state.”
The Commonwealth Journalists Association represents journalists throughout the Commonwealth. Its website is www.commonwealthjournalists.com.